Jo Dixey Class Coming UP

In April 2015, I went to the Australian Quilt Convention in Melbourne with my great sewing friend Lisa Johnson. We had a wonderful time. Have you ever been to AQC? It’s an incredible extravaganza of all things quilting. Lisa and I splashed out on a Gold Pass which gave us entry to all the events, Gala Dinner, Cocktail Party, artist’s talks, four days of classes and the most amazing lunches and refreshments you’ve ever seen at an event! I would definitely have gone this year except that I have my new little shop to look after.

One of the workshops I did was with Jo Dixey, an incredibly talented needlewoman, as I like to call her. Needlewoman seems to fit; as she is Royal School of Needlework trained embroiderer who earns her keep through traditional embroidery commissions, making quilts, textile art and other mixed media pieces. Lucky for us she also teaches embroidery, quilting and various other stich related techniques.

Jo is originally from the UK and is now, lucky for us, living and working in New Zealand. Her connection with the Royal School of Needlework interested me as I had done a weekend workshop there about four years prior. The school is within Hampton Court Palace, an atmospheric venue! It has high light filled rooms overlooking the formal garden of William III. That was a wonderful experience but a bit off topic.

Because I loved Jo’s class at AQC so much, I’ve decided to bring her to Berry for a two day class on the 16th and 17th April this year. The class is titled: (by me attempting to be a bit descriptive) Drafting a Portrait Quilt. Jo calls the workshop making a Head Quilt. Both are accurate really. The class is all about the skills needed to turn a photograph of a head into a piece of textile art.

What I learned, which can be applied to almost any subject matter, is how to enlarge the photo while simplifying it to the necessary elements for your design. How to break your design up into areas of tonal difference and then, how to render this in fabric. The techniques Jo teaches are age-old techniques that do not rely on technology. This is a refreshingly computer free class! The old school materials of pencils, paper, rulers, scissors, needles, thread and fabric are all we need in this class to create a really potent and meaningful work.

I’m still finishing off the needleturn on this portrait of my gorgeous daydreaming daughter Milly who was a year off becoming a teenager in this photo. In years to come, it’s going to be a really poignant reminder of how serene and elegant she is at this age. I’m thrilled with how it turned out. A piece I couldn’t have even imagined making without Jo’s experience in rendering shading across all kinds of textiles and her calm no-nonsense methods of walking us through a simple but unfamiliar process.

I own a quilt shop!

Some of you might be wondering a little bit about who owns Berry Quilt & Co. Well let me fill you in a bit….

My name is Sharon Thomson. Occasionally its Sharon Nicholls-Thomson. (This is when I enter competitions so that my maiden name doesn’t miss out on all the fun.) I’m a quilter and teacher in my 40s with a youngish family; a lovely husband and three daughters under 13. I’ve been sewing and quilting since my early teens when I made myself patchwork shorts and t-shirt from my mother’s scraps and wore them down the street to buy an ice-cream. I wish I had a photo of that!! Well… maybe I don’t actually!

I love all styles of quilting, embroidery, sewing, textile arts and … in fact I don’t think I’ve ever met a craft that I haven’t had a go at! I’m a member of our local Berry Spinners & Weavers but I have to admit that I’m not a regular at meetings now that I have a day job.  I still have a loom set up in the lounge room where I do a few rows every now and again and my spinning wheels get occasional work outs. I love knitting and crochet and I even used to have a knitting blog when my kids where much younger. This blog is still online at The Stripey Tiger where I left it.

My background and initial university qualification was a Bachelor of Art Education, a high school art teaching degree. I then went on to complete a masters degree in Arts Administration. After that, I worked for many years in the contemporary crafts area for Craft Australia,  the now defunct peak representative body for contemporary crafts practitioners, CraftWest in Perth and The Glass Artists Gallery in Glebe, Sydney as well as a super funky boutique antique, collectables and fine art auction house in Sydney called Wemyss.

In all of these roles I worked on various marketing and communication style projects, some of which were all about retailing high end crafts. I also managed and toured Australia-wide exhibitions both for the not profit organisations and for the commercial gallery I worked in. I did quite a bit of teaching in all those roles and there was loads of public programs style communication with audiences.

More recently, since I’ve lived in Berry 2 hours south of Sydney, I’ve worked taught for and worked with Liz at Berry Patchwork. It’s been about 5 years now and I know the business and its clients pretty well. I live close by and have had lots of lovely feedback about the changeover which is encouraging.

I’ve taught everything at Berry Patchwork from hand piecing, EEP and appliqué to how to follow patterns for all styles of quilts. I think my strength as a teacher is encouraging the tentative student by teaching basic skills that give a foundation and confidence to build on and unlock their own creativity.  I particularly enjoy helping people design and make their own quilts on their own terms, for their own purpose, with their own rules. The satisfaction I get from seeing students complete things that they never thought they could is immeasurable!

My own quilting work is very eclectic.  I do everything from appliqué to english paper piecing which I have always loved, to really simple machine piecing. I enjoy making the whole quilt myself from start to finish and whilst I can machine quilt, I much prefer hand quilting my bed quilts. Recently, I’ve been concentrating on developing my own art practice and am making smaller experimental wall pieces with a strong improvisational and design focus. I was very excited that one of these pieces won third place at the recent Quilt NSW Annual Quilt Challenge. You can see  this piece, ‘White Light’  on their website.

Over the fast few years I’ve run a craft workshop mini-business with my friends Paulina Collier and Alison Burgess of the Berry Tea Shop called Craftea. Our Craftea Facebook account shows a little of what we used to get up to. This was great fun and I look forward to running similar nights at Berry Quilt & Co. I have also been running various craft and creative workshops from my own home under the name Marmalade Hill. There is a website for Marmalade Hill  enterprises that you might be interested in looking at too.

I like thinking about art, design, crafts and how they overlap. I was very lucky to be asked by Elizabeth Dubbelde to give a talk at the Berry Quilting Retreat dinner in 2015. I spoke there about quilts that I had begun to see around the place that were presented with their seams facing the audience not the other way around as we are all used to seeing. I talked about the beauty that is often hidden inside quilts and what the makers were meaning when they chose to work in this way. Making this speech was great fun and I relished the opportunity to organise my ideas that way and chat to others about it. Feel free to make contact with me if you have any interesting ideas about quilts that you want to chat about.. I’m always up for a bit of a ‘quilt theory’ chat.

So there you go… I know this post is VERY long and if you have got this far …you might see that when you think about it… all my previous work experience and all my lovely hobby pursuits seem to be nicely joined together in this new opportunity to own and organise my own retail space and creative hub. I’m already enjoying this time getting things ready and look forward to getting into the shop, playing with fabric all day and meeting you all when you come to visit.  xxx Sharon

An Announcement!

Elizabeth Dubbelde - Sharon Thomson
Liz & Sharon wondering if you have heard the latest about The Berry Patchwork Shop sale.
The news that Elizabeth is definitely selling The Berry Patchwork Shop and that I am the buyer went public today, the first morning of the CMRI Gerringong Quilt Show!

There are many congratulations! Many of Elizabeth’s clients know me from teaching classes and working in the shop when Elizabeth is away on holidays. It is lovely that so many people made a point of coming up to me and congratulating me on the news!

And there are lots of questions… Yes.. lots of things will stay the same.. and yes there will be lots of new things too! Yes I do hope Elizabeth will come and teach for me in the future! Yes I will be keeping the children’s classes. Yes all the current teachers will continue!

Everyone loved the photos of us on our announcement notice. Liz’s husband Alan took them one morning. Thank you Alan They are great!!

Wondering some more..

Elizabeth and I began to talk about what it would be like if she sold. We talked about her continuing to run the Berry Quilting Retreat and the One Red Thread textile prize and the other textile prizes that she has built up, such as the “Desert Threads” and the “A World of..Colour/Texture..” series.

This seemed perfect to me. It meant that Elizabeth could continue to build on those amazing vibrant events and keep them in Berry without having to worry about the retail side of things and conversely, I could concentrate on running the retail well. I’m happy to walk before I break into a full on sprint!

Our discussions continued slowly with our ideas for how it might happen evolving weekly. Eventually our husbands joined the conversation and my husband John was totally supportive. He thought it a wonderful idea and strongly encouraged me to GO FOR IT! My three girls though it was a brilliant plan too. They couldn’t wait to come on in and work behind the counter.


Elizabeth has been talking about selling The Berry Patchwork Shop on and off for a couple of years. Even though I’ve taught regular groups in the shop for about 5 years, I’ve got a retail background as well as teaching qualifications… my three daughters were in primary school and even though when Liz first started talking about selling, it seemed a good fit and an incredible opportunity but…. it wasn’t the right time.

So I let the idea go…. for a while….

This year, my eldest went to high school and it went like a dream. In a matter of months, that unknown quantity was demystified, she was having great year and the other two were growing up and becoming more independent too.

I wondered if the fantasy of owning my own patchwork shop could possibly work? Did Elizabeth still want to sell?